It is 1991 and the summer after Peter Mandel’s senior year of high school. His boyfriend, Adam Algedi, has left for the summer to visit his family in Italy. As much as he misses Adam, the timing might be right as Peter is emotionally wrung out from their relationship and all the lying and hiding they have done over the past year. He doesn’t want to see his old friends, as continually having to pretend he is straight and Adam is just his best friend is wearying and mentally exhausting. Not to mention that Peter feels awful about the impact on Adam’s girlfriend, Leslie.
With Adam gone for the summer, Peter begins to explore life outside of high school and his old friends. He begins to spend more time at the club where his boss Robert performs as Renee, and learns what it is like to be an out, gay adult. Peter spends more time with Daniel McPeak, the guy he can’t help but crush on, as well as getting to know Daniel’s friends. Peter works on repairing his relationship with his parents as they begin to come to terms with him being gay. And he starts to figure out what kind of person he can really be, and what kind of life he can have now that he is out.
Despite the growing attraction between himself and Daniel, however, Peter can’t quite seem to break the ties with Adam. Adam is full of promises of how things will be different in the fall, even though he will be away at college with Leslie. And Peter can’t help but want to believe him. He has such strong hopes that this time will be different, that Adam will be willing to come out and that they can really be together. At the same time, Peter’s feelings for Daniel are growing, and he likes the person he is when they are together. Now Peter has to decide if he is ready to move on from his first love, or if he is going willing to give Adam one more chance.
You Are Not Me is the second story in Leta Blake’s excellent ’90s Coming of Age series. The four books will ultimately be one long story of Peter’s journey, so this book really needs to be read after Pictures of You, and while there is a discreet ending, the overall the story is left unfinished at the halfway point of the series.
As with the first book, this story is carried on the strength of Peter’s shoulders. I couldn’t help but love him as he is finding his way and figuring out his life and his relationships, even as he sometimes makes decisions that make me want to scream. Blake so perfectly captures Peter as a young adult on the verge of manhood. He is at times impetuous and makes bad choices. He is so caught up in his feelings for Adam that he can’t really think straight or look at the situation with perspective. At the same time, he knows and fully understands his role in the mess of a situation and unflinchingly accepts responsibility. And he is trying so hard to figure out life, the person he wants to be, and how to sort out the tangle things have become. You can’t help but love him, honestly, and Blake makes him so shockingly real. That I think is what draws me so much to this story. It all just feels so real, the good and the bad. And through it all, I just wanted to hug Peter and help him find his way.
I feel like this series is so unique and so well done. It is four books, each a step on Peter’s overall journey. There is not a romantic resolution here, though Peter is guaranteed an ultimate happy ending by the close of the series. These first two books so far are really about Peter learning and growing and figuring things out. While the first story is more focused on Peter’s sexual awakening, learning to have friends and a boyfriend and navigating the complications of the relationship he has built with Adam, this second book is more about Peter figuring himself out as a person. He makes friends who know the real him, starts to figure out his place in life, and has a more developed relationship with his parents. But at the same time, he is still caught in the middle with Adam. Adam represents the person he was in the past, the life he wants to get away from, while Daniel is a potential future. And throughout the book Peter is torn between the two alternatives, trying to figure out if he can have the new life he has built, but still have Adam too.
That brings me to my one area of complaint and that is I found it frustrating to still have so many of the same conflicts for the second book in a row. As much as Peter sometimes made me crazy, I had no problems with his bad choices, as we can see him learning and growing. But as a reader, I feel like this conflict over whether he wants to be with Adam dragged on for a long time. For every step forward when it seems like Peter is ready to move on, there is a step back where he can’t give Adam up. It is a constant cycle of being mad that Adam continues to date Leslie, of being tired of the lies, and then turning around and hoping that maybe this time Adam will change and they will be together just the two of them. And so it seems to go back and forth so much, each time I think Peter is moving on, he gets pulled back in, and it became frustrating at times. That said, I think things resolve nicely here and Blake sets up the story for some more growth and change, and I am really looking forward to that as the series continues.
This story is set in the 1990s and Blake does a really nice job grounding the book in the time period. There are small details about music (including the titular REM song, Losing My Religion) and pop culture that give the story a good sense of time. There is also a lot of discussion of the growing AIDS crisis as Peter deals with worries of safe sex, as well as accompanying Daniel to visit an AIDS patient at the end of life. This is such a critical part of the history of that time period and Blake incorporates it well.
So I really am continuing to love this series. Yes, it is nontraditional, but it is so rewarding. This is a long story, and I couldn’t put it down. I am so captivated by Peter and his journey and think Blake has done an exceptional job really capturing that coming of age experience. I am so excited for future installments and definitely would highly recommend both books so far.